MEPS 286:99-106 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps286099

Linking foraging strategies of marine calanoid copepods to patterns of nitrogen stable isotope signatures in a mesocosm study

Frank Sommer1,3,*, Andrea Saage1, Barbara Santer2, Thomas Hansen1, Ulrich Sommer1

1Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften, Experimental Ecology, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany
2Max Planck Institute for Limnology, PO Box 165, 24302 Plön, Germany
3Present address: Danish Institute for Fisheries Research, Marine Ecology and Aquaculture, Kavalergården 6, 2920 Charlottenlund, Denmark

ABSTRACT: The foraging modes of calanoid copepods differ in that stationary suspension-feeding is more easily detected by prey with strong escape responses (ciliates) than is ‘cruising’ or ‘ambushing’ feeding. Thus, the ability of a copepod to include heterotrophic prey in its diet may be associated with its foraging mode and, further, with its nitrogen stable isotope signature (δ15N). This is because a more carnivorous diet may be expected to result in a higher δ15N. We tested this hypothesis in a mesocosm study using a density gradient (0 to 80 ind. l-1) of calanoid copepods. We expected copepod δ15N to generally increase with decreasing copepod density because of increased food availability, and predicted stronger increases for cruising than for stationary suspension-feeding species. As an assemblage, copepods had a pronounced impact on the food web: diatoms and ciliates decreased, whereas nanoflagellates increased with increasing copepod density. As expected, Centropages hamatus, a cruising species, showed the strongest isotopic increase and also highest population growth at low copepod density, suggesting that it was the most efficient species in capturing ciliates. Temora longicornis, a stationary suspension-feeder, showed a uniform isotopic increase in all mesocosms, which we believe resulted from nutritional stress arising from poor feeding on both ciliates (too fast for ingestion by T. longicornis) and nanoflagellates (too small). However, Pseudocalanus elongatus, a species equally categorised as a stationary suspension-feeder, showed increases in its δ15N similar to those for C. hamatus. While this may indicate potential switching in its foraging mode, alternative explanations cannot be ruled out, partly because qualitative and quantitative aspects of trophic enrichment in our experiment could not be clearly separated. This study shows that consumer δ15N are difficult to interpret, even if potential food sources and aspects of the species’ biology are known, and thus emphasises the necessity for further laboratory studies to help better interpret zooplankton δ15N in the field.

KEY WORDS: Nitrogen stable isotopes · Trophic enrichment · Food webs · Foraging strategy · Copepods · Mesocosm · Zooplankton

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